Is Sri Lanka on the verge of another civil war?
After days of peaceful protests over the current financial crisis in Sri Lanka, five were killed in violent clashes on Monday. We take a look at how the island nation reached here.
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Sri Lanka had to deploy thousands of troops to enforce a curfew after five people were killed and over 200 injured in clashes on Monday that prompted Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa to resign.
The ancestral house of the Rajapaksa family and the homes of several other ministers and ex-ministers were attacked and set on fire.
"After an operation, the former PM and his family were evacuated to safety by the army," a top security official told AFP.
Sri Lanka President Gotabaya Rajapaksa had declared a state of emergency for the second time in five weeks on Friday, giving security forces sweeping powers.
The country has been facing a severe economic crisis for over a month now, which has led to acute shortages of fuel, medicines, and electricity supply. The prices of essential commodities have also skyrocketed.
We take a look at how Sri Lanka's economy spiralled into a crisis and the events that led to the current turmoil in the island nation.
HOW IT STARTED
- The protests in Sri Lanka started after Covid hammered the island's vital income from tourism. This starved the country of foreign currency needed to pay off its debt.
- The government was forced to ban many imports, which led to inflation, severe shortages and power blackouts. In April, the Sri Lanka government announced that it was defaulting on its USD 51 billion foreign debt, reported AFP.
- According to a report in Reuters, critics say that the roots of the crisis lie in economic mismanagement by successive governments that created and sustained a twin deficit - a budget shortfall alongside a current account deficit.
- After winning the elections in 2019, President Gotabaya Rajapaksa announced deep tax cuts. The sweeping tax cuts led to credit rating agencies downgrading Sri Lanka in 2020. This meant the country had no access to international financial markets.
- Sri Lanka started using its foreign reserves resulting in plummeting of foreign reserves and Covid in 2020 made the situation worse.
- As of February 2022, the country was left with only USD 2.31 billion in its reserves but faced debt repayments of around USD 4 billion in 2022, reported Reuters.
- Protesters in Colombo took to the streets in late March, demanding government action. On March 31, demonstrators hurled bricks and started fires outside the President's private residence. Police used tear gas and water cannons and imposed a 36-hour curfew, reported CNN.
- As protests started to spread, President Rajapaksa declared a state of emergency on April 1, giving security forces sweeping powers to arrest suspects. On the next day, almost all of Sri Lanka’s cabinet resigned at a late-night meeting, leaving the Rajapaksa isolated, reported Al Jazeera.
- Sri Lanka's president lost his parliamentary majority on April 5. Rajapaksa appointed an expert panel to organise a debt restructure and lifted the state of emergency.
- On April 9, in the biggest protest so far, tens of thousands marched to the President’s office demanding Rajapaksa to resign.
- After weeks of peaceful anti-government demonstrations, violence broke out on May 9 when Mahinda Rajapaksa's supporters reached the capital from the countryside and attacked protestors with sticks and clubs. "We were hit, the media were hit, women and children were hit," one witness told AFP. Sri Lanka declared a state of emergency again as five people were killed in clashes and houses of several ministers including that of Rajapaksa's were attacked.
Sri Lanka unrest.#AFPgraphics factfile on unrest in Sri Lanka on May 9 after supporters of the president attacked anti-government protesters and authorities declared a curfew pic.twitter.com/rgRhV5JMiK— AFP News Agency (@AFP) May 10, 2022
Mahinda Rajapaksa said he was resigning to pave the way for a unity government.
According to an AFP report, under Sri Lanka's political system, even with a new unity government, the President will have the power to appoint and fire ministers and judges, and enjoy immunity from prosecution.
"Unless President Rajapaksa steps down, no one - whether the masses in the streets or key political stakeholders - will be appeased," analyst Michael Kugelman from the Wilson Center told AFP.
The Sri Lanka government has approached the International Monetary Fund (IMF) for a bailout. The IMF has said it held "fruitful technical discussions" with Sri Lanka on its loan request, while the World Bank has said it was preparing an emergency aid package for the island nation, reported Reuters.